A recent analysis by Almir Felitte describes three related events in Brazil which indicate that hard liners are preparing a three-pronged armed assault on what remains of the country’s wounded democracy. Sectors of the Military Police, from their command posts, are flirting with ‘Bolsonarism’. There have been numerous scandals in shooting clubs where they are trying to form militias, while the president has installed military personnel in three thousand strategic federal government posts. Meanwhile, President Bolsonaro is pushing to loosen gun laws so that extreme right-wing political militias can be armed There are ominous signals that the country faces grave risks, whether the three ideologically-aligned armed movements (military, police, political militia) are preparing to respond in case of widespread left-wing mobilization, or, perhaps, to launch a pre-emptive strike to deal a decisive blow to their historic enemies.
Talking about democracy has become complicated in Brazil since the 2014 election, which right wing elements refused to recognise. Brazil has lived under a coup regime since Dilma Rousseff was removed from the Presidency in a legally flawed impeachment process two years later. The damage was aggravateded when the Brazilian authorities decided to ignore all kinds of illegal acts committed in the lead up to the 2018 elections to guarantee Bolsonaro’s victory over his left-wing rival.
Since the end of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), there has never been so much heard about the possibility of the military taking power in Brazil once and for all as has been discussed in recent weeks. Discussion about the risk that the country will move from this shameful dictatorship that we are living to an openly military dictatorship, as our sad history already knows, has already become a daily topic, even in the mainstream press. And to understand and contain this risk, it is essential to examine three different political groups in the country.
First, we have to examine the activities of the Armed Forces. At this point, it is worth remembering that Bolsonaro created his government with the goal of total militarization, with 9 members drawn from the military to occupy posts at the highest level of the government: Bolsonaro himself (a former captain in the armed forces) and his deputy, General Mourão, in addition to 7 others appointed to ministerial level, almost all from the army. Strategic secondary positions, such as State-owned enterprises and agencies Caixa, Correios, Petrobras and FUNAI, were also occupied by military personnel and even the civilians named in Planalto (the presidential palace) had military connections, such as the former Minister of Education, Vélez , for example.
This situation has only intensified with the passage of time and, among so many confusions that are occurring in the centre of the Government, the figure of a member of the Armed Forces designated to play the role of “firefighter” to the latest political or administrative crisis has become commonplace. The latest and most emblematic case was the appointment of General Pazuello to lead the Ministry of Health, in the midst of the pandemic. Once sworn in, the general immediately surrounded himself with 12 more servicemen in important positions in the portfolio and imposed a series of censorship measures on the data related to the covid-19 crisis.
The presence of the Armed Forces has become so expressive in Brasilia that, this week, the TCU decided to carry out a survey on how many active and reserve soldiers occupy civilian positions in the Government. At the end of 2019, Folha had already discovered more than 2,500 servicemen in leadership and advisory positions. Today, there is talk of more than 3 thousand.
The number of uniformed men who rule the country, of itself, would be enough to worry about. However, worse than a de facto military government, Brazil really seems to be forming a de jure military government. The military formation that is steadily taking over the government and the State, well symbolized by Minister General Heleno, constantly attacks the other sectors in public institutions and the opposition, portraying the Army as a Moderating Power in the country. This Moderating Power that we have already seen in action, when on the eve of a trial in the Supreme Federal Tribunal that ultimately determined the course of the 2018 elections (the prosecution of the lead presidential candidate, Lula de Silva), the then Commander of the Armed Forces, General Villas-Boas, made a calculated statement on the national networks threatening the rest of the country if the military’s instructions were not followed.
However, the imminent danger posed by the military is not the only uniformed danger that confronts the country. The politicization of the police forces, aligned with the extreme right is becoming an irreversible phenomenon. But, contrary to what many say, this does not appear to be a movement restricted to a low “insubordinate” level of the police. To the contrary, the phenomenon appears to be institutional and dominant.
Structured in a rigid and vertical chain of command, in the streets the Brazilian police rarely express behaviour that is not in accordance with the ideas of their superiors. And these are the ones who are leading the phenomenon of police politicization. In 2018, for example, the country’s Legislative Houses were taken over by a large number of elected police officers.
This politicization manifested itself in the streets in an emblematic way in São Paulo, when the Military Police ignored the Nazi fascist flags raised by Bolsonaro’s supporters and provoked protesters who opposed the Government and then dispersed them with force. Another symbolic case occurred at the beginning of the year, when military police were stationed in Sobral and caused terror in the town of Ceará. At that time, the political performance of some police officers went far beyond the already routine confusions that have always occurred in police attacks, with strong indications of the influence of Bolsonarista politicians on the police officers involved.
It is worth mentioning that this phenomenon of politicization of the police, placing them as central actors in a potential coup movement, was recently demonstrated most forcefully in Bolivia, where the police played a leading role, along with the Armed Forces, in the removal of President Evo Morales. In Brazil, the news reports are multiplying about state police officers that may have joined Bolsonarism and are escaping the control of provincial governors, as Correio Braziliense reported this week. In short, contrary to what some have said until recently, it does not appear that the police commands are losing control over the lower echelons. Worse than that, it seems that civil society is about to lose control of the police institutions as a whole.
But the Brazilian armed coup has not only been built by the military and police. Among many crimes that it revealed, the scandalous video of the ministerial meeting which was recently made public revealed once and for all a political objective that seems to be an old dream of the Bolsonaro family for Brazil: a political armed militia. The President was explicit in the meeting in saying that his gun-release policies were for political ends, so his supporters could use them to pursue political opponents. And, in fact, since taking office, Bolsonaro has taken a series of measures to loosen arms legislation in the country.
Therefore, it is not surprising that a group like “300 do Brasil”, while pathetically small, has publicly admitted that they carried weapons in their camp. Likewise, the National Arms Association – CAC Brazil, which gathers collectors, snipers and hunters, has already admitted to being a “reaction force” that will protect the country and support the President”, which resulted in a formal investigation into the possible formation of a paramilitary group.
These are only two examples that symbolize the turn suffered in the Brazilian arms discourse, which seems to have abandoned the arguments of “legitimate defence” to finally admit the political nature of the possession of weapons, pointing to the political persecution of the left. This character is very reminiscent of (and seems to copy) the structure of the United States’ private militias, often linked to far-right groups.
These three phenomena – the Armed Forces, the police and the militias – may or may not be in direct communication to coordinate their plans and activities, in order to become a single movement with coup objectives and consolidating the total militarization of the country. The three ideological lines are very close to each other and are also aligned with the Bolsonaro government. Since the democratic rupture caused by Dilma’s fraudulent impeachment in 2016, the Brazilian political situation has continued to deteriorate. Underestimating armed political movements like these could be a fatal mistake for Brazil’s future. LINK
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